The co-op and the PLC were not always easy bedfellows.” Initially I was surprised to hear that acknowledgement from Jim Bergin, the retiring head of Tirlán, as he gave his farewell address at Tirlán’s annual general meeting last week. Tirlán, the 100% farmer-owned co-op, gave up the Glanbia name as the two organisations formally separated in 2022. Though while the quoted Glanbia now has no stake in the co-op, Tirlán continues to hold just over 28% of the PLC, which at present values is worth about €1.2bn.

“But the main asset of Tirlán is its milk pool,” according to both Jim Bergin and incoming CEO Seán Molly. They both stressed the new importance of security of supply when they were talking with customers.

This is also a theme that has been expressed by the Dutch specialist lender, Rabobank. But Jim Bergin called for greater visibility around what farmers are paid for milk. This, as he rightly pointed out, has diminished in recent years, with no national audited milk price league.

Accountancy firms Craig Gardner and KPMG used to do the definitive league for us in the Irish Farmers Journal, but recently it had become impossible to get agreement on full participation.

A legitimate question is who gains from a lack of visibility? And what organisational push is needed to get a rethink?

During a wide-ranging farewell address, it’s clear that Jim Bergin believes that the growth phase of Irish milk production is finished at least for the moment but the imperative for him now and the Irish dairy sector is the maintenance of the nitrate derogation so that the particular attributes of competitive grass-based Irish dairying can be maintained.

For somebody of Jim Bergin’s standing to publicly say that he does not agree with the spreading of municipal waste on agricultural land should spark some kind of policy examination at higher levels within the State apparatus. The double-think on this issue is extraordinary.

For the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to wash its hands of the question and say that land spreading is a matter for the Department of Agriculture and the local authorities seems to be an anomaly at least. He questioned whether this is a major contributor to worse water quality in south Leinster than in more intensive dairy areas in Munster.

We will see when the intensive Tirlán-initiated work on the Slaney catchment area is carried out and analysed.

One of the ironies is that sewage is not allowed to be spread on farms participating in the quality assurance schemes, but the spreading of farmyard manure and slurry is far more closely monitored and strict limits are applied.